Skip to main content

COLLINS, John (1829-1886) – Shepherd

John Collins, referred to as “John C”, features in Chapter V of A H Savory’s Grain and Chaff from an English Manor:

I had experiences of various shepherds, and the man I remember best was John C.  Short, sturdy, strong and willing, he was somewhat prejudiced and old-fashioned, with many traditions and inherited convictions as to remedies and the treatment of sheep.  John had a knowing expression; his nose projected and his forehead and chin retreated, so that his profile was angular.  He wore the old-fashioned long smock-frock – not the modern short linen jacket which goes by the name of smock, but a garment that reached to his knees, with a beautifully worked front over the chest.  It is a pity that these old smock-frocks are no longer in vogue:  I never see one now; they were most picturesque and afforded great protection from the rough weather which a shepherd has constantly to face.  His hat was of soft felt, placed well towards the back of his head and, behind it, he wore a wealth of curls overlapping the collar of his smock.  John was very proud of his curls; he told a group of men, who were sheep-dipping with him that the parasites of the sheep, which are formidable in appearance, never troubled him until they reached his head.  “Into them curls, I suppose, John?” said a flippant bystander.  John was pleased that his most attractive feature should receive even this recognition.

Altogether he presented a notable figure, and one quite typical of his profession, especially when armed with his staff of office, his crook.  He was inclined to superstitious beliefs, and told me when I noticed the matted condition of the manes of some colts domiciled in a distant set of buildings that he reckoned “Old PG”, an ancient dame in a neighbouring cottage with a reputation for witchcraft, “had been a-ridin’ of ‘em on moonlight nights.”  This matted appearance of colts’ manes, which is only the natural result of their not being groomed or combed when young and unbroken, was known in many country places as “hag-ridden”.

John was jealous of any interference in his remedial measure for ailing sheep, but my wife [Frances Matilda Savory], who doctored the village generally, was anxious to try her hand, having little faith in his skill; so we arranged that the next time he had what he considered a hopeless case it was to be given over to her exclusively.  The opportunity soon occurred; a ewe was found caught by the fleece in some rough briars in an old hedge, where it had been some hours in great distress and, with much struggling to free itself, it was quite exhausted.  Pneumonia supervened and, when John thought it impossible to save its life, he handed the case over to my wife.  She succeeded, chiefly, I think, by careful nursing, in pulling it though, much to John’s surprise; doubtless he thought its recovery a lucky fluke.

John was given to occasional alcoholic lapses; on one occasion I found him aimlessly driving sheep across a field of growing mangolds!  I could see that he was muddled and, on reaching home late I sought an interview.  He was not to be found, but at his cottage his wife told me that John was not very well.  I postponed my reckoning till the following day when, with great readiness, he explained how it happened.  “The day before,” he said, “I frained my fittle (refrained from my victuals) all day, and when I got up yesterday I didn’t feel justly righteous (quite right) ov my inside; so I gets a bit of ‘bacca, just about as much as you’med put in your pipe (this, apparently, to incriminate me), and I puts it at the bottom of a tay-cup with a drop ov rum; then I fills it up with hot tay and drinks it off, and very soon I felt it a coming over (overcoming) mer (me).

John Collins was born at Cropthorne in about 1830, the second of six children of George Collins, an agricultural labourer, and his wife, Hannah (née Edginton).  By 1851, John was working as a shepherd at Sambourn Hall, Warwickshire.

John married Mary Bylid at Cropthorne on 28th January 1860 and spent the first few years of their married life in Cropthorne where three children were born:  Elizabeth (1861-1944), William (1864-?) and John (1867-1917).  They then moved to Bengeworth where George Bylid was born (1869-1912); at the time of the 1871 census they were living at Bengeworth Field.  A few years later they moved to Aldington when John became shepherd for Arthur Savory.  Their youngest son, Walter Henry (1878-1927) was born at Aldington in 1878 and baptised at Badsey in March 1879.  They lived at Manor Cottage, Aldington.

When John Collins referred to “Old PG”, whom Savory described as “an ancient dame in a neighbouring cottage with a reputation for witchcraft”, they were mostly likely talking about Mary (Pansy) Gould, who lived in the next-door Manor Cottage to the Collins family.  Mary (c1797-1881) was widowed in December 1878 and ended her days in Evesham Union.

By 1881, the Collins family had left Aldington and they were living at Cleeve Prior where John was employed as a carter.  John died in the Pershore area in 1886.